New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo is known as a “master of the genre” (People) for her pulse-pounding mystery series set in Amish country. Now, together for the first time in print, A Simple Murder features six original short stories starring whip-smart chief of police, Kate Burkholder.
While on vacation with her partner John Tomasetti in LONG LOST, Kate discovers that the old house where they're staying is haunted by a girl who disappeared decades before...
An abandoned baby is discovered on the Amish bishop's front porch in A HIDDEN SECRET, and Kate is called in to investigate.
SEEDS OF DECEPTION unearths the secrets of Kate Burkholder's own Amish past—and lays the groundwork for her future career in law enforcement.
In the midst of a power outage in Painters Mill, a teenage girl is attacked at an Amish party in ONLY THE LUCKY.
IN DARK COMPANY is the story of an injured woman with amnesia who seeks Kate's help in trying to remember her attacker’s identity...and her own.
In IN PLAIN SIGHT, Kate investigates what she believes is a straightforward hit-and-run accident—but soon uncovers a story of teenage passion that may have led to attempted murder.
Release date: February 9, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 448
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A Simple Murder
There are some things that never grow old. The brilliant autumn foliage that blankets the rolling hills of Ohio’s Amish country is one of them. It’s mid-October and the northeastern part of the state is a shimmering collage of orange, rust, and red. I’ve driven this road countless times in the years I’ve lived here, but I never tire of it. Every pilgrimage differs in some profound way so that I drink it in with a perspective that’s breathtaking and new. The way the light slants across the trees, turning the foliage to fire. The way the morning mist hovers like smoke over the forest floor. The unexpected sight of an Amish farmer and his team of draft horses harvesting corn. The spectacle of fallen leaves caught in an eddy and scattering across the asphalt like small creatures trying to escape the impending winter.
My name is Kate Burkholder and I’m the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio, a small farming community nestled in the heart of Amish country. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of state agent John Tomasetti’s Tahoe and we’re bound for two days of R&R at a small bed-and-breakfast an hour from where I live. I should be relaxed and looking forward to some much-needed downtime and the chance to spend some quality time with the man I love. If only life was that simple.
I’ve lived too many years to suddenly come down with a case of nerves over spending the weekend with a man I’ve known for almost three years now. I’m not prone to bouts of anxiety or angst. Tomasetti is, after all, my best friend. He’s my lover and confidant, and a man I admire greatly. We’ve worked some difficult cases together—murder and kidnapping and all the depraved things that go along with those kinds of crimes. Still, inexplicably, the thought of spending two nights at a cozy bed-and-breakfast without the buffer of work scares the living daylights out of me.
Perhaps because deep inside I know the tension running up the back of my neck has little to do with the weekend ahead, and everything to do with the evolution of a relationship I value more than my own life. The next two days promise to take that relationship to the next level, a new level I have little experience with, and I’m not sure I’m up to the task.
“You’re brooding awfully hard about something.”
His voice draws me from my thoughts. I glance over at him and I’m moved not only by the sight of him, but by the depth of my feelings.
“I’m not brooding,” I tell him. “I’m contemplating. There’s a difference.”
“If I didn’t know better, I might jump to the conclusion that you’re having second thoughts about this.”
“You’re not calling me chicken, are you?” I ask.
He slants me a smile. “I would never disparage a woman who can outshoot me.”
The words elicit a grin. “I think I can handle a weekend alone with you. I’m just…”
The word sounds juvenile and makes me feel just a little bit foolish. I want to tell him nerves are for schoolgirls, something I haven’t been for a very long time. “I’m not used to taking time off.”
He cuts me an amused look. “Or sharing your bed with a man for an entire weekend.”
“There is that.”
“If it’s any consolation, Chief, this is new ground for me, too.”
“So at least we’re on an even playing field.”
The banter is like gentle fingers kneading the back of my neck and I feel myself begin to relax. “I’m glad I have you to help me keep things in perspective, Tomasetti.”
We crest a hill overlooking a lush, forested valley, and we’re met with a shimmering ocean of red and yellow and gold. Maples and black walnut trees shimmer like faceted gems as they rush by my window. We reach the valley floor and cross an old steel girder bridge tattooed with graffiti that spans the Rouge River. We pass an Amish buggy and then a rustic sign directs us toward the Maple Creek Inn.
“Here we go.” Tomasetti makes a left onto the narrow gravel lane.
Ancient trees close over the Tahoe, blocking the bright afternoon sun. To my right, the slow-moving water of the river keeps pace with our vehicle. I glimpse tendrils of woodsmoke above the treetops and then the old farmhouse looms into view. It’s a large, two-story Victorian with a redbrick chimney and tin roof. A porch adorned with hanging ferns and clay pots filled with cheery yellow mums wraps around three sides of the house. Pretty red Adirondack chairs beckon one to sit and watch the river. There’s more seating on a paved patio just off the porch where several benches surround a huge bronze chiminea.
Tomasetti parks in a gravel area at the rear marked with a battered wooden GUEST PARKING sign. “Might take awhile to get used to all this peace and quiet,” he comments.
“Spoken like a true city boy.”
Giving me a wry smile, he shuts down the engine and we get out. I’m met by crisp fall air and a cacophony of birdsong. There’s not a cloud in the sky, but the thick canopy overhead turns the light murky. I smell the river now, a pleasant mix of moist air, wet earth, and foliage.
Tomasetti picks up my overnight bag and then slings his own over his shoulder. We cross the gravel lot and take a pavestone path to the front of the house.
“I’m told there are trails along the river,” he tells me. “And a couple of restaurants down the road. I thought we’d explore the woods and then drive into town for some lunch.”
The scent of the woodsmoke pleases my olfactory nerves as we take the steps to the porch. Tomasetti opens the door for me and we enter a large front office that looks more like the living area of some 1890s farmhouse. The aromas of hot cider and cinnamon lace the air. A braided rug that looks Amish-made covers distressed hardwood floors. To my left is a good-size room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the dark water of the river. A fire crackles and pops from within a massive stone hearth.
A gray-headed woman in a blue dress, white apron, and gauzy kapp stands behind a counter, an old-fashioned landline phone wedged into the crook of her neck, a hotel register open in front of her. The kapp tells me she’s Mennonite. She makes eye contact with me and smiles, raising a finger to let us know she’ll be right with us.
Tomasetti sets our bags on the floor. A man with a full beard that reaches his waist comes in from another room, his arms filled with firewood and kindling. I guess him to be about sixty years old. He’s wearing dark gray work trousers with suspenders, a gray work shirt, and a black barn coat with a flat-brimmed hat.
“Ah, customers! Didn’t see you come in.” Kneeling next to the hearth, he stacks the wood on a wrought-iron rack. “Welcome to Maple Creek.”
Tomasetti introduces himself and the two men shake hands.
“I’m Harley Hilty. My wife and I own the place.”
I extend my hand and he gives it a solid, friendly shake. “It’s beautiful.”
“Fannie and I love it here. She inherited it from her grossdaddi thirty years ago and we’ve been fixing it up ever since.” He brushes wood dust from his coat, chuckling. “It’s a full-time job,” he says and addresses the woman behind the counter. “How long have we been running this place now, Fannie?”
She hangs up the phone and comes around the counter. She’s a plump woman of about sixty with ruddy cheeks and the chapped hands of a hard worker. “Oh, I’d say going on twenty-three years now.” She crosses to me and we shake hands. “I’m Fannie.”
She tilts her head and eyes me with curiosity. “Now there’s a nice Amish name for you.”
“I used to be Amish.” I say the words in Pennsylvania Dutch.
“I see.” She arches a brow, and I can’t tell if it’s in judgment or if she’s merely acknowledging my words. “You left the fold?”
I nod, wishing I hadn’t said anything. This weekend is about Tomasetti and me. I don’t want to worry about our hosts condemning me for my choices. To my surprise, she nods and offers a smile. “We were Swartzendruber, you know.”
“Too strict for our liking,” Harley puts in.
“We’re Mennonite now.” Fannie crosses to a small coffee station and pours cider into four mugs.
I nod, letting that bit of information soak in. The Mennonites and the Amish share a long and complex history that goes back over three hundred years. Today, the two groups share many similarities with regard to theologic views and cultural heritage. But the differences, particularly between the Swartzendruber Amish and the Mennonites, are profound. The Swartzendruber group is the most conservative, with stringent rules against technology. All but the most conservative of Mennonites—the Old Order Mennonites—utilize modern conveniences, including cars, electricity, and even computers and the Internet.
“Don’t recall seeing you folks here before,” Harley says. “This your first visit?”
Tomasetti nods. “I was out at one of the travel websites and one of your guests mentioned something about this place being haunted.”
The couple exchanges a grim look I don’t understand. The Mennonite man covers the awkward moment with a chuckle. “Well now, we don’t really talk about that too much.” His eyes flick to his wife and he lowers his voice. “But there have been a dozen or so sightings of her since she went missing.”
“Her?” Tomasetti asks.
“Harley Hilty, don’t go scaring the guests already.” Straightening, Fannie turns and carries two mugs over to us. “All that talk of ghosts. That’s just a load of horsefeathers.”
“Fannie doesn’t believe in ghosts.” Harley points out the obvious.
“You just hush about all that.” The Mennonite woman shoves a steaming cup at me. “I’ve got a cinnamon stick if you’d like.”
The aromas of cider and nutmeg tease my senses as I take the mug. “This is perfect. Thanks.”
Copyright © 2021 by Linda Castillo.
“Long Lost” copyright © 2013 by Linda Castillo.
“A Hidden Secret” copyright © 2015 by Linda Castillo.
“Seeds of Deception” copyright © 2016 by Linda Castillo.
“Only the Lucky” copyright © 2017 by Linda Castillo.
“In Dark Company” copyright © 2018 by Linda Castillo.
“In Plain Sight” copyright © 2019 by Linda Castillo.
Excerpt from Fallen copyright © 2021 by Linda Castillo.
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